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Want Versus Need? Psychologists Answer Timeless Gift-Giving Question

Update Date: Mar 11, 2014 07:26 PM EDT
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Can't decide what to get your boyfriend for his birthday? Should you get him a Gucci belt or a year's supply of toilet paper? While you may think that he'll be more impressed with the Gucci belt, psychologists say he'll actually be more impressed with the toilet paper- even if he's a brand-obsessed metro-sexual.

Researchers said that gift givers tend to pick presents that they think people desire. While we all want to pick gift that is both what people desire and need, we tend to choose gifts that are more desirable over gifts that are more practical. However, psychologists believe that people actually prefer more practical gifts. 

"We predict that in a gift-giving situation, both the gift givers and gift receivers will focus on the gift receivers when thinking about the gift. Givers will choose gifts that are more desirable over gifts that are more practical, whereas receivers will give greater weight to the gift's practicality," study authors Ernest Baskin of Yale University, Cheryl J. Wakslak of the University of Southern California, Yaacov Trope of New York University, and Nathan Novemsky of Yale University wrote in their research paper.

The latest research involved a series of eight classroom studies and one field study of friends giving gifts to each other. Researchers measured the pros and cons between desirability and practicality in the preferences of gift-givers and gift-receivers.

For instance, a person knows that their friend loves Italian food. However, that person has to choose between a similarly priced restaurant gift certificate for a well-rated restaurant that is an hour away versus a medium-rated restaurant that is five minutes away. The latest findings revealed that the person giving the gift will most likely choose the more expensive restaurant. However, their friend actually prefers the restaurant that is closer to their house.

 "We show that givers think fancier gifts will cause them to be more liked, will show they care more, and will make their friends happier, but receivers actually think practical gifts will cause this," researchers concluded.

The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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